ROSS MACDONALD. “Guilt-Edged Blonde.” Lew Archer. Short story. First appeared in Manhunt, January 1954, as by John Ross Macdonald. Reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, February 1974. Collected in The Name Is Archer (Bantam, paperback, 1955), also as by John Ross Macdonald. Two stories were added to the collection when it was reprinted by Mysterious Press as Lew Archer: Private Investigator in 1977 under the name Ross Macdonald. Reprinted in The Mammoth Book of Private Eye Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg (Carrol & Graf, 1988), and in Hard-Boiled: An Anthology of American Crime Stories, edited by Bill Pronzini & Jack Adrian (Oxford Press, 1995). Film: Le loup de la côte ouest (The Wolf of the West Coast), France, 2002. [James Faulkner played protagonist “Lew Millar.”]

   PI Lew Archer is hired for a six day job as a bodyguard for a man who is afraid to leave his house after receiving a phone call that morning. He’s met at the airport by the man’s brother, but the job doesn’t last all that long. When they reach the house, they find his client shot and dying outside on the lawn and a blonde-haired girl driving away in a hurry.

   After Archer persuades the brother to pay him to stay on the case, he learns that the dead man had a past. He’d been a treasurer for the mob in his younger days, and it’s apparent that his past had finally caught up with him. The brother, though, is also clearly trying to cover up for the girl.

   After tracking down the girl and learning what she tells him, Archer finds himself unlucky with a client a second time. He’s also been shot, and Archer finds him dying outside his home. I won’t go into details, but this is an early version of the stories involving dysfunctional families and their secrets that Ross Macdonald became famous for, and even as short as it is, it’s one told well.